East Bladen’s magical season came to an end Wednesday night, but not before the Eagles pushed one of the state’s premiere high school baseball programs near its limit.
Randleman scored twice in the eighth inning to pull out a 6-4 win in the NCHSAA 2-A Eastern championship game in front of a packed house at Russell Priest Field.
Photos by Kenneth Armstrong
The win sends the Tigers (17-1) into the state championship games against Rutherfordton-Spindale Central (16-2). The best-of-3 series is scheduled to open Friday in either Fayetteville or Burlington. Randleman won the state title in 2019 and has advanced into at least the fourth round of the playoffs every year since 2010, excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign.
East Bladen finished 12-5 after sharing the Three Rivers Conference championship with East Columbus and winning three playoff games.
The Eagles rallied from 3-0 and 4-3 deficits and had a chance to win it in the seventh. Lefredrick Wooten’s sacrifice fly scored Rasean McKoy that tied it at 4-all. East Bladen had the bases loaded with one out, but an attempted suicide squeeze bunt was popped up, caught and turned into an inning-ending double play.
“This team has always had fight in them,” East Bladen coach Grant Pait said, “but we got the short end of the stick tonight.
“I was proud of this team. They are a scrappy bunch.”
Randleman used a pair of walks, an error, wild pitch and sacrifice fly to score twice in eighth. Randleman’s Andrew Cox came on to strike out the last two batters to end the game.
Wooten struggled a bit in the first inning, allowing a pair of Randleman runs, but the senior right-hander was masterful afterward before leaving with two outs in the seventh because of the 105-pitch limit. Wooten allowed four runs on five hits, walked three and struck out 12. He struck out eight consecutive batters at one point, fanning the side in the fifth and sixth innings and getting the first two batters in the seventh.
“Randleman is a really good baseball team,” Pait said. “They got three hits right out of the gate, but Freddy (Wooten) calmed down. He started mixing it up. He got comfortable and we felt good.
“(Freddy) showed up tonight. I told Freddy going into the sixth inning that he had 20 pitches left and he used every one of them.”
East Bladen used Coleman Tatum, Evan Pait and Jacob Priest after Wooten left the game.
Three Randleman pitchers combined to allow only two East Bladen hits, struck out 11, walked five and hit two batters.
Randleman’s Owen Strickland opened the game with a single to right and scored on a double to the fence in left by Trey Way. Way went to third on the throw home in an attempt to get Strickland. He scored on a wild pitch.
The Tigers made it 3-0 in the third. Kaden Ethier led off with a single to right, moved to second on Strickland’s sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Way’s single to left.
East Bladen tied it in the fifth. Ethan Johnson reached on a wild pitch after swinging on a third strike. McKoy reached on a fielder’s choice with Johnson going to third on a throwing error. Zach Meares’ sacrifice fly to center plated Johnson. After the second out, Wooten walked. Brady Hollingsworth ripped a single down the third base line that drove in two runs and tied the game.
Randleman put together a two-out rally in the top of the seventh. Ethier and Strickland singled and Way walked to load the bases. Hunter Atkins followed with a single to left that gave the Tigers a 4-3 advantage.
In the bottom of the seventh, McKoy beat out an infield hit, Meares walked and Jacob Priest reached on an error to load the bases. That set up Wooten’s sacrifice fly that tied it. After an intentional walk to Hollingsworth, the Eagles tried to win it with a suicide squeeze play, but the bunt was popped up and caught by Randleman catcher Brooks Brannon, who easily doubled off the runner at third base.
“It’s hard to address the team when the seniors are walking off that last time,” Pait said. “I told them they are always part of the family. They are the start of something that is going to be good.”
Seniors Zach Meares, Jacob Priest, Lefredrick Wooten, Brady Hollingsworth, Drew Sholar, Tyler Hill, Raseasn McKoy and Grayson Clark played their final game for the Eagles.